International Magazine Praises Vietnamese Pork Ham

Tasting Table – a famous cuisine magazine wrote a detailed article about Vietnamese pork hams (Cha Lua), stating that this dish creates some of the most iconic food pairings in the Asian country cuisine.
July 11, 2023 | 17:20

Every cuisine has its staples — like tortillas in Mexico, potatoes in Russia, or sambal in Malaysia. While now ubiquitous, these foods haven't always been an essential component of their region. Created through the Columbian exchange or other cultural intermingling, the cuisine is an ever-evolving concept, according to Tasting Table.

In Vietnam, it is the relics of French colonialism that fused into modern-day gastronomy. From the baguette in a banh mi to the carrots, potatoes, and asparagus vegetables consumed in the country, the influences are extensive, notes Culture Trip.

Photo: Rack of Lam
Photo: Rack of Lam

Cha Lua is also known as Vietnamese ham or steamed pork roll. It is a type of sausage made with pork and is typically steamed in banana leaf and is a dish usually eaten during the new year (Tet). Similarly to Bo Vien (Vietnamese Beef Balls), the pork meat is mechanically beaten into a smooth paste before being shaped. It has a firm texture that can be sliced easily and is paired with many Vietnamese dishes.

“Owing its origins to French colonization during the 19th century, the dish combines European-influenced sausage-making methods with Vietnamese ingredients. The texture of the meat is especially important, with the wrong pulverization method resulting in an unpalatable sausage. Additionally, the paste must be tightly sealed when steamed. Vietnamese immigrants to the U.S. replace hard-to-find banana leaves with aluminum foil to ensure a proper texture, notes Lion Brand,” according to Tasting Table.

Photo: Sift & Simmer
Photo: Sift & Simmer

Traditionally, Cha Lua is made of lean pork, potato starch, garlic, ground black pepper, and fish sauce. The pork has to be pounded into a paste; it cannot be chopped or ground, as the meat would still be fibrous, dry, and crumbly. Near the end of the pounding period, a few spoonfuls of fish paste are added to the meat for flavor. Salt, black pepper, and sugar can also be added. The meat is now called Gio Song, meaning "raw sausage", and can also be used in other dishes than sausages.

The mixture is then wrapped tightly in banana leaves into a cylindrical shape and boiled. If the banana leaf is not wrapped tightly and water leaks inside while it is being boiled, the sausage will spoil quickly if kept at room temperature. The sausage has to be submerged vertically in boiling water; a 1 kg sausage typically takes an hour to cook.

Correctly made Cha Lua can be stored at room temperature for about one week. Refrigerated storage is preferable; it will keep for 3 to 4 weeks.

The sausage is normally sliced and eaten with Banh Cuon, Banh Mi, or Xoi, or braised in fish sauce and black pepper with other meat dishes. If fried, it is called Cha Chien.

Photo: Banh Trung Thu Dieu Ky
Photo: Banh Trung Thu Dieu Ky

After procuring Cha Lua, slice the ham and easily integrate it as a topping. In addition to the popular banh mi, the sausage goes well with rice rolls, banh cuon, sticky rice cakes banh day, and bun bon hue, a meaty soup similar to pho. It can even make a meal on its own when fried, and served with rice and a chili dipping sauce, notes The Ravenous Couple. The sausage's versatility and taste highlight why Cha Lua became a staple of Vietnamese cuisine. Dependable and nutritious, it makes for an easily-integrated delight, as Tasting Table stated.

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